Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harassment in employment. In 1998, the United States Supreme Court held in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., Inc. that sexual harassment also included same-sex harassment and violated Title VII. Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which covers New York, Vermont and Connecticut, reversed a decision of a District Court in the Western District of New York, dismissing a same-sex harassment claim on summary judgment grounds. The Second Circuit concluded that there was ample evidence and issues of fact that could support a jury verdict in favor of the harassed employee.

In Barrows v. Seneca Foods Corp., Jeffrey Barrows alleged that his male supervisor, Victor Sanabria, sexually harassed him by touching his genitals and otherwise creating a hostile working environment on the basis of sex. Among other things, Sanabria referred to Barrows as a “faggot” and leveled vulgar sexual comments at him during work. In addition, Barrows alleged that Sanabria had likewise harassed other men in similar fashion, but not women. The District Court for the Western District of New York had previously dismissed the lawsuit, holding that “there was no evidence that [Barrows] had suffered discrimination because of his sex.” (emphasis in original).

The Second Circuit reversed, noting that under the Supreme Court’s decision in Oncale, the focus on whether sexual harassment has occurred is on “whether members of one sex are exposed to disadvantageous terms or conditions of employment [e.g. hostile work environment] to which members of the other sex are not.” Indeed, this is the very essence of a sexual harassment claim, and it does not matter that the harasser and victim are of the same sex. In addition, in order for the sexual harassment to be illegal, it needed to be “severe or pervasive.” The Second Circuit held that a jury could find that “Sanabria treated women better than men and that, therefore, men were ‘exposed to [a] disadvantageous term[ ] or condition [ ] of employment to which [women] were not.'” (alterations in original).

Following a two-week trial, a jury returned a verdict finding that the employer had subjected a class of female employees to a sexually hostile work environment. The jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages to the class of employees who had been sexually harassed. The court, however, declined to impose injunctive relief to ensure that the sexual harasser would not be in a position to harass women in the future.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont, reversed and held that under the circumstances of the case, injunctive relief was necessary to prevent future sexual harassment.
In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. KarenKim, Inc., 11-3309-cv, the Second Circuit determined that the employer had not adopted adequate measures to ensure that the sexual harassment would not recur. The court noted that the sexual harasser and owner of KarenKim were involved in a romantic relationship, which meant that he might still have access to the employees even if he were no longer technically employed as a supervisor. In addition, the court noted that the complaint procedure adopted by KarenKim to prevent future sexual harassment following the lawsuit was ineffective in that it required that complaints be made in writing and within 30 days of the alleged harassment in order to be acted upon. This coupled with the fact that the initial sexual harassment went unchecked for years prompted the Second Circuit to order the New York federal district court to impose the injunctive relief requested by the EEOC.

Today, Governor David Patterson signed into law, the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which reflects the first sweeping domestic workers’ rights legislation in the nation.
Among other things, the New York law provides for overtime pay to domestic workers, and protection against workplace discrimination and harassment based upon race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, marital status and domestic victim status. The legislation specifically addresses sexual harassment, which is cited as a major problem for domestic workers in New York.

In Pucino v. Verizon Communications, Inc. (“Verizon”), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont) reversed a decision by a New York federal court granting summary judgment in favor of Verizon on a former employee’s gender-based hostile work environment claims.

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On January 6, 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) released data concerning charges of discrimination filed with the agency in FY2009. The EEOC resolved a record number of charges alleging harassment and violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. FY2009 saw the second highest number of charge filings nationwide, 93,277 –just about 2,000 filings less than the record high set for FY2008.

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An assistant marketing manager has sued Steiff, a maker of teddy bears and stuffed animals, and its CEO, claiming that she was sexually harassed by the company’s CEO, which culminated, according to the employee, in a rape. The case was filed in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

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A sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against Duane Reade Inc., was recently settled for $240,000 and other relief. The lawsuit had alleged that Duane Reade, which operates over 200 drugstores in New York, had unlawfully created and failed to correct a sexually hostile work environment at one of its stores located in Bronx, New York.

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Last week, a lawsuit was filed in New York State Supreme Court alleging sexual harassment against Southern Hospitality, a New York City restaurant, and its owners, one of whom is Justin Timberlake. The lawsuit was brought by Alison McDaniel, a former restaurant manager, who accuses two of Timberlake’s owners of discriminatory conduct.

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In what is being referred to as the largest verdict for an individual case of sexual harassment in New York, a Queens County jury awarded $15 million to a nurse, Janet Bianco, who claimed that a physician, Dr. Matthew Miller, sexually harassed her over an 8 year period. According to the lawsuit, Bianco complained repeatedly to supervisors at Flushing Hospital concerning Miller’s actions, which began in 1993 and ended in 2001.

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